Tag: Alexa

Amazon’s Alexa can now wake you up with music instead of alarms

One of the greatest perks of connected speakers is waking up to whatever music you like, not just a buzzer or the radio. However, that hasn't been an option for Alexa-equipped devices like the Echo -- until today, that is. Amazon has added a feature to Alexa that lets you wake up to the music of your choice from one of several streaming services, including its own options and Spotify.

To begin with, your criteria can be as broad or narrow as you like. You can name a song, playlist or genre, or ask to play any kind of music if you're not picky. Alexa can stream radio channels from the likes of TuneIn and iHeartRadio. Naturally, there are a few perks if you use one of Amazon's music services. You can ask Alexa to wake you based on a mood (like "relaxing"), or find a wake-up song by reciting the lyrics.

This sounds like a minor feature, but it's potentially very important. If Amazon is going to make the Echo Spot a viable alarm clock, it needs to give the device better functionality than that 20-year-old clock radio sitting on your nightstand. This also makes all Echo models more directly competitive with rivals that have had music wake features for years, such as Sonos. And let's face it: even if you're just using Alexa on your phone, Amazon would rather be the one to start your day.

BBC launches Alexa skill for live radio and podcasts

Every BBC radio station and podcast is now accessible through Amazon's Alexa assistant. So if you have an Echo or Echo dot in your home (or any Alexa-enabled speaker, for that matter), you can now launch Radio 1, 6 Music, or an episode of Desert Island Discs with your voice. The new Alexa "skill" offers granular control too, including "play," "pause" and "resume." You can also skip back to the "previous" episode of a podcast at any time.

It's not the first time the BBC has backed Alexa, however. The news organisation is one of many that support Amazon's "flash briefing," a quick rundown of the day's top stories. The broadcaster has also experimented with an interactive sci-fi drama called The Inspection Chamber, which lets you answer various questions and choices during its 20-minute run-time.

Source: BBC (Press Release)

All the cool gifts are made for spying on you

It's the gift-giving season, and high-tech gadgets are more exciting than ever. Alexa, Siri, Cortana, and even "Okay Google" are ready to come over for holiday ham, ready to help you turn on a light or play you some Spotify. Those always-on microphones, cameras, and WI-FI connected devices are cheaper, cooler, and more convenient than ever.

Yet, you still feel a little weird about their, you know, baser functions. Google and Amazon only record what they need to. Plus, you've read 1984, watched Big Brother (and thought the contestants were nuts for being watched 24-7), and you think spying on people's everyday lives is generally bad.

And yet, look at us. We're marinating in surveillance tech. We carry an always-on combination tracker and eavesdropping device everywhere we go (a smartphone). We agonize over picking out the best smart home microphone-speaker combination. We snarf up the latest in connected appliances. We say "yes" to all the apps, and surf the web looking for deals like it's the pre-condom era of porn.

We know the connected devices, no matter how big the company they come from, are all bug-infested, insecure, preyed upon, and riddled with shady backroom data deals. And yet.


And yet.

The trend toward in-home surveillance devices is only continuing, with this year's gift-giving aspirations. Here at Engadget, we're modeling the trend: decrying privacy invasions, yet playing with privacy fire, indulging our lust for convenience and futurism with all the sexy gadgets on our 2017 best-of gift list.

We want the Echo, the Google Home, a Sonos One, and all the privacy-devouring spy tech we can cram into our voice-activated games console. I'm with you! Yet I know better than to let companies spy on me! Give me a new MacBook, a Chomebook, an iPad or a Surface, damn the easily-hackable onboard cameras and microphones, full speed ahead. I'd push grandpa into a mall fountain and jam his walker into Best Buy's revolving doors to get my hands on the hottest new tracking devices, the iPhone, a Pixel, a Galaxy.

And that's the thing: We all know the risks these days. It's not like ten years ago when some of us were trying to raise the alarm about webcam hacking and data dealing, and everyone thought we were fringey conspiracy weirdos in tinfoil bras doing Flickr updates from our freaky internet-connected phones.

If anything, security and surveillance are even bigger concerns. Just in October, a woman's new webcam was taken over practically the minute she plugged it in. In a Facebook post, she described the incident, going on to film the camera's complete hijacking while in progress. But here's the thing: The story didn't surprise anyone, and didn't compete with any headlines. We're all like, yeah, that's a thing that happens now, while in our heads we silently practice what we'll do when it happens to us.

young male technician...

I know what you were thinking when your eyes traveled the wishlist above, with the Echos and the Homes, and the highly desirable appliances that make Inspector Gadget's kit look like unimaginative stupidity. You're thinking, "but Amazon will protect me from unlawful requests" and "Google Home wouldn't do that on purpose, it would harm consumer trust."

And in the instances we know of, you'd be right. When a man was murdered in November 2015, Amazon initially refused to hand over its Alexa data from the scene of the crime when prosecutors demanded the records. The company said that Alexa's questions and answers are protected by the first amendment and Amazon "seeks to protect the privacy rights of its customers." Amazon later relented and shared the data when the defendant, the Echo's owner, gave permission. That a hacker had fun turning the Echo into a wiretap did not endeavor to reassure.

And that whole thing where Google Home was recording everything just this last October, well that was a "bug." Never mind that "bug" is Facebook's perennial catch-all term/excuse for getting caught doing something people don't like (and that's not a good look for anyone). Google said its little smart home speaker was having an "issue" that caused it "to behave incorrectly." That probably wasn't reassuring for journalist Artem Russokovskii, who discovered he was being recorded 24-7.

What can we do, but take Google and Amazon at their word? No one trusts these companies or their interests in serving us better ads or suggestions. They say they'll protect us, they're big companies and can afford to properly test everything, and they fix their mistakes when we find them.

Haven't we learned anything from dystopian books and films? How is this now aspirational? Or is it just that we're so miserable from politics that a little convenience-at-a-cost is our only salve to soothe our tortured souls?

Don't feel bad. Everyone's doing it, the gleeful self-surveillance. Even hackers, who know better than anyone, and I can tell you that they're shopping for the same things and going home to strip down and roll in piles of connected crap like they hate privacy, too. We're all going to privacy hell together.

I'm sure it'll be fine. As long as we remember that it pays to be paranoid because we're all so depressed and angry at the state of the state that we deserve a little fluff, a little fun, a little convenience.

Facebook may be insidious, Apple might've conditioned us, and everyone with a stake in the surveillance pie has tried to soothe us. But we still need to cover our webcams, turn off geotagging, drill into settings to fight the data creeping, and stay awake and alert to the ways that companies make us targets.

Take my advice for the holidays: Shop like no one's watching, but never forget that someone might be listening.

Images: Brendan McDermid/Reuters (Amazon Echo); Shutterstock (Security camera).

Engadget UK giveaway: Win a smart heating system courtesy of Tado

There's nothing like cosying up in front of a roaring fire during the Christmas holidays, but you can't exactly stoke the embers from your smartphone on the way home from work. Turning your central heating up to tropical temperatures from afar is something you can do with Tado's smart heating system, though. This week, we're giving away one of Tado's connected thermostat starter kits, two smart radiator valves for creating specific heating zones, and free installation for the lot. The smart thermostat also works with Alexa, Siri and Google's Assistant, so there are plenty of ways to fiddle with the dial without taking your hands out of those toasty pockets. Go ahead and get your entries in via the Rafflecopter widget below, but make sure to familiarise yourself with the giveaway rules first.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

  • Entries are handled through the Rafflecopter widget above. Comments are no longer accepted as valid methods of entry. You may enter without any obligation to social media accounts, though we may offer them as opportunities for extra entries. Your email address is required so we can get in touch with you if you win, but it will not be given to third parties.
  • Contest is open to all residents of the UK, 18 or older! Sorry, we don't make this rule (we hate excluding anyone), so direct your anger at our lawyers and contest laws if you have to be mad.
  • Winners will be chosen randomly. One (1) winner will receive one (1) smart thermostat kit, two (2) smart radiator thermostats and free installation.
  • If you are chosen, you will be notified by email. Winners must respond within three days of being contacted. If you do not respond within that period, another winner will be chosen. Make sure that the account you use to enter the contest includes your real name and a contact email or Facebook login. We do not track any of this information for marketing or third-party purposes.
  • This unit is purely for promotional giveaway. Tado and Engadget / Oath are not held liable to honour warranties, exchanges or customer service.
  • The full list of rules, in all its legalese glory, can be found here.
  • Entries can be submitted until December 8th at 11:59PM GMT. Good luck!

Source: Tado

Control Hulu with your voice on Amazon’s Fire TV devices

Back in September, Amazon announced that its Video Skills Kit would open the doors to Alexa support for third-party video apps. Now, Hulu has announced that the video streaming app now works with Alexa voice commands.

Starting today, users who have a Fire TV device can call up their favorite shows with a simple voice command -- "Alexa, watch The Handmaid's Tale." If you have a Live TV subscription, you can also ask Alexa to switch to a certain TV channel ("Alexa, watch ESPN.") It's nice to see Amazon give competing video apps the same perks as its own Prime Video through the use of the Video Skills Kit.

Amazon wants Alexa to be your new office assistant

Alexa could soon be coming to work with you. At Amazon's annual re:Invent conference, the company revealed its plans to make the voice-activated virtual assistant office-friendly with an Alexa for Business platform, which will come with specific skills for the workplace.

Initial features are likely to include apps for teleconferences and data organization, as well as enhanced security layers that could authenticate multiple people in one space. Sources say the company is probably going to announce a new marketplace for the Alexa for Business platform, too.

Alexa hit the consumer market three years ago, and now boasts more than 20,000 skills developed by third parties. Giving the platform a business focus will no doubt accelerate development even further. Here's hoping someone creates an app that'll make the dreaded office printer easier to wrangle.

Source: CNBC

This DIY Furby Echo speaker will probably give you nightmares

Furby is already a tad creepy by itself, but a new DIY mod just stepped up the spookiness: Howchoo has converted a Furby toy into a makeshift Amazon Echo. The project works its dark magic by shoehorning a Raspberry Pi Zero W mini-PC into the critter's frame, giving it the power to run Amazon's open source Alexa Voice Service. Add a USB mic, a speaker and a stepper motor and you get a Furby that can read the news or turn up the thermostat.

This is possible in part because Furby is so easy to hack. Its simplicity makes it trivial to replace the original processing power with the Raspberry Pi, and you can upgrade other components with relatively limited effort. It's theoretically possible to use the toy's infrared emitter to control your TV, although that sadly isn't working in the current version.

You need to be handy with a soldering iron to make this work, but you can in fact build it yourself without too much expense. Howchoo's Zach paid a total of $50 for all the materials, including the Furby in question. That's about as much as an Echo Dot, but look at it this way: this is likely the only Alexa speaker you'll see that could scare you senseless in a dimly-lit room.

Via: The Verge

Source: Howchoo

Alexa and Echo will land in Australia and NZ in early 2018

Amazon just dropped its umpteenth Alexa skill, this time for Destiny 2 fans. Already in the tens of thousands, the digital assistant's tricks span shopping, news, smart home controls, pop trivia, kiddie pastimes, and now video games. But while a growing number of regions have access to Amazon's Echo family of smart speakers (including recent additions India and Japan), they're still missing in some spots. Now, it seems Alexa's global expansion is picking up speed, as the digital helper is (officially) heading Down Under. Amazon has announced that Alexa and Alexa-enabled devices will land in Australia and New Zealand in early 2018.

The Echo will be part of the launch, reports The Sydney Morning Herald -- although, Amazon is keeping mum about precise timing and the exact Echo devices it plans to release. We've reached out to the company for more details.

Upon arrival, Alexa will be greeted by the Google Home Mini, which landed in Australia late last month. Meaning, the smart speaker wars will officially heat up Down Under in the new year. The move is hardly surprising, considering Amazon.com is prepping for an imminent Australia launch -- although it clearly didn't happen by Black Friday, as anticipated.

Amazon is also buddying up with Kiwi and Aussie services on local Alexa skills. The new crop will mostly be made up of news and media outlets (according to The Australian), among them Sky News Australia, Fox Sports, Qantas, Dimmi, Coastalwatch, Air New Zealand, TVNZ, Newstalk ZB, and New Zealand Herald.

Source: Amazon Alexa

‘Destiny 2’ gets a Ghost Alexa skill and replica speaker

Whether you're a Destiny 2 newbie sampling its free trial or a hardened vet griping about player progress, one thing we can all agree on is the general awesomeness of the game's Ghost AI. The floating intelligence is a tipster, guide, and mechanic all rolled in to one. Activision is so enamoured with the virtual assistant that it's pairing it up with Amazon's Echo speakers. Yes, a Ghost Alexa skill is now available for players that want to bark voice orders at a real-life version of the virtual assistant. With it, you'll be able to ask Alexa to ask Ghost to equip load-outs, scout levels, and join a clan.

If that doesn't sound slightly convoluted in itself, you can also pre-order a $90 Ghost replica speaker that syncs with an Amazon Echo device to carry out your bidding. The perks include responses from the Ghost himself, Nolan North (unfortunately, there's no Peter Dinklage option for fans of the first game), with over a thousand custom responses.

The Ghost speaker will ship on December 19th (but you'll have to be fast as the limited edition replica is only available for the next three hours), while the Alexa skill is out now. Judging by its announcement, it seems Amazon wants devs to create more video game skills, as it looks to tap into the lucrative gaming market.

Source: Amazon Alexa

Third-party Alexa skills can now use notifications

Your phone gets notifications, so why can't your smart speaker? Amazon is doing something about it.. and thankfully, it's not as bothersome as it could be. The company is trotting out a developer preview of notifications in Alexa skills. If you opt in, third-party skills can push notifications to your Alexa-equipped devices (such as an Echo speaker or your phone) that will trigger both a sound and an on-device alert (whether an LED light or on-screen display. This doesn't mean you're going to be peppered with unwanted speech, though: your notifications accumulate, and you'll only hear what they are when you ask Alexa to read them.

Amazon stresses that it won't allow notifications with advertising, and it wants developers to use notifications "sparingly." You shouldn't get an Instagram-like deluge if skill creators respect the guidelines. And there are already examples of notifications at work. AccuWeather, Domino's Pizza, family finder Life360 and Amazon's own Washington Post all have early notification support for features like news, weather and location updates.

At the same time, Amazon is taking advantage of Alexa's newfound ability to recognize individual voices. As of early 2018, third-party developers will have the option of personalizing experiences based on who's speaking. You may get different music playlists, for instance, or a game that tracks progress for specific people.

It'll be a while before these features see widespread adoption, but they both illustrate how important Alexa is to Amazon -- it's an entire platform, not just a companion service. If Amazon is going to stay ahead of Google and Apple in the smart speaker arena, it needs a voice assistant with at least some features its rivals can't yet match.

Via: TechCrunch

Source: Amazon Alexa